Amid skills gaps, technological acceleration and other disruptions, organizations are realizing that the key to staying competitive lies in the continuous development of their most valuable asset — their employees. The pursuit of learning is not just an individual characteristic of high-performing workers but a strategic imperative for businesses that seek to build agile, future-ready workforces.
This makes now a critical time to reconsider the purpose and practice of corporate education. We’ll cover what it is, the benefits, and share a few new and emerging approaches to corporate education that can help you optimize your existing strategy.
What is corporate education?
Corporate education refers to a system of learning and skills development provided by organizations for their employees. This can include opportunities such as training, as well as formal learning to earn certificates or degrees. Typically, the employer covers all or some of the costs associated with learning.
There are a variety of ways that corporate education can be delivered to employees. Some organizations create in-house programs that utilize their own resources and expertise to develop learning content. Companies can also offer access to a wider range of programs and courses through a direct partnership with an academic institution. Another option is partnering with a third-party education solution that acts as the bridge between academic institutions and the company.
Types of corporate education programs
Corporate education programs are designed to address different learning needs. Here are some of the most common types:
- Training is often grouped under the umbrella term that is “corporate education.” Training content is typically designed to teach practical skills that can be applied on the job. It can include in-house resources, such as onboarding materials that cover company-specific processes for new hires, as well as external content that can be accessed through a vendor, such as a massive online course provider (MOOC). Training can be delivered in-person, or online via an in-house platform or through third-party software, such as a learning management system (LMS).
- Tuition reimbursement programs are when an employer refunds all or part of a worker’s educational expenses. Workers are usually provided with a set of stipulations that specify eligible courses and programs, as well as the total reimbursable amount which can be limited to a specific timeframe. This enables employees to earn credentials at a reduced cost while working full-time.
- Strategic workforce education solutions offer a comprehensive suite of courses and programs, strategically selected to support an organization’s unique needs and business objectives. Learning opportunities can include short-form training courses, to professional certifications and under- or postgraduate degree programs. A distinct characteristic of strategic workforce education is direct billing, which alleviates the financial burden off of the employee by enabling companies to bill the academic institution directly.
How to evolve corporate education for the new world of work
Between the skyrocketing cost of education and the rapid pace of technological evolution, traditional methods of delivering corporate education are quickly becoming ineffective at meeting the needs of modern workers and companies alike.
Following are common pitfalls of traditional education programs and tips on how to address them for a more modern and effective approach:
Many traditional corporate education programs were not designed with accessibility in mind. For example, the traditional tuition reimbursement process places a substantial financial burden on employees, as they have to pay upfront and then wait for reimbursement. This often discourages many individuals from participating.
If you currently have a reimbursement program that’s not generating results, consider a direct-bill solution that enables your company to pay academic institutions directly, which eliminates the need for employees to cover any upfront costs.
Incorporate flexible learning options
In-person learning, while traditionally valued for its interactive and immersive nature, faces challenges in terms of accessibility. Not only does it limit individuals in remote or rural areas from accessing learning, but the physical aspect also makes it challenging in other ways. For example, commuting to a physical campus takes valuable time away from busy adult learners working full-time.
With online learning and training, geographical barriers are removed, allowing employees to pursue education comfortably at home and on their schedules. This flexibility also provides employees, regardless of their educational background, with the chance to expand their knowledge and skills. Whether it’s obtaining a high school diploma, earning a bachelor’s degree or learning a new skill set, there are online programs suited to empower every employee with growth opportunities.
Provide employees with support
Simply offering learning opportunities is not enough to make a corporate education program effective. Employees need more than just a catalog of courses and programs. They require guidance that helps them confidently understand what learning options are the best fit for their lives and career goals. Some corporate education solutions come with built-in learner support that supplies this critical component. It’s also important to consider how you can leverage people managers as an additional support tool to provide encouragement.
Invest in measurable solutions
Many corporate education programs come with limited performance-tracking capabilities. Now more than ever, there’s greater pressure on HR teams to show the value of their learning investments. Almost half of organizations in a recent survey consider measuring ROI as one of their top challenges when it comes to corporate learning, but only 33% measure the financial outcomes of corporate learning at all. This lack of measurement also leaves HR leaders with minimal insight into program KPIs, such as employee participation, completion rates or employee retention.
A good place to start is by understanding which essential metrics to monitor, including talent mobility, turnover, distribution, cost to hire, time to hire, onboarding costs and others. Another vital element is leveraging technology to simplify program management and facilitate performance measurement through robust reporting capabilities for administrators.
Align employee education to business objectives
Many traditional approaches to corporate education often fall in the category of “check-the-box” benefits. In such cases, education and training programs are provided as a standard offering, but they tend to exist in a silo, apart from broader business goals and objectives. This approach can lead to a disconnect between what employees are learning and what skills your organization needs to fill critical job openings.
A modern approach to corporate education is a strategic investment in the development of your workforce. It recognizes that education should not be a separate, one-size-fits-all benefit, but rather a tailored and integral part of achieving business success. By identifying skills gaps and aligning learning initiatives with company needs, organizations can enable their employees to contribute to the company’s continued success.
Benefits of corporate education
A renewed approach to corporate education that’s aligned with your business goals as well as the learning needs of your employees can drive significant positive results across the organization.
Here are a few key benefits to be aware of:
Research shows that employees feel better engaged at work when they have access to educational resources that offer them real career mobility and opportunities for advancement within the organization. And employee engagement is one of the most prominent drivers of business performance and productivity. Companies with highly engaged workforces may be 24% more profitable.
Today’s top talent seeks out employers that offer growth opportunities — 70% of U.S. employees say they're at least somewhat likely to leave their current company and accept an offer with a new company that's known for investing in employee learning and development. Offering access to training and education opportunities bolsters your employer value proposition and can make you stand out against talent competitors.
Investing in developing the skills of your workforce enables you to build a stronger pipeline of high-potential talent from within. Not only does this help with succession planning, but it also lessens dependence on external hiring, which is competitive and costly.
Additionally, investing in education is especially important for younger workers. LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report found workers ages 18–34 want vibrant learning and growth opportunities at work above all else, even higher than they rank work-life balance.
In the war for talent, providing career growth opportunities for your employees can effectively improve retention. A Pew Research Center report indicates that 63% of employees who quit their jobs cited a lack of advancement opportunities as their primary reason for leaving.
Promote skill development among your employees and foster a culture that values learning. According to Deloitte, companies with a strong learning culture have 30%-50% higher engagement and retention rates.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Offering accessible corporate education opportunities for all levels of your organization creates a bridge over barriers that allows people who may not otherwise be able to grow their careers and offer their unique perspective to your organization. This also strengthens companies by creating leaders that accurately reflect their communities.
From training to transformation: A new vision for corporate education
The imperative for corporate education to evolve and align with the demands of the modern workplace is undeniable. As businesses navigate through an era of rapid technological advancements, unstable economies, and evolving employee expectations, traditional models of corporate education have to be continuously optimized for long-term impact.